Amid threats, security increases at meetings of officials

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The meeting place ? A secret. Agenda? Not public. Name tags? Take them off in public.

Even one of the main social events – the trivial party – would take place at an undisclosed location.

This was not a meeting of spies or undercover law enforcement agents. Instead, it was security protocols for a gathering last week in Madison, Wis., of state election bureaucrats from across the United States.

While the covert measures may seem a bit extreme, they were put in place because of the very real threats against election workers that have escalated since the 2020 presidential election as former President Trump continues to promote lies. that widespread fraud cost him his re-election. .

Security has increased at meetings of government officials after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “but not like this one where the agenda is being kept secret,” said Kevin Kennedy, who served as the top election official of Wisconsin for nearly four decades before retiring in 2016. He attended meetings of the Assn. state election officers for more than 30 years and said it was shocking that otherwise anonymous election officials are now being targeted.

“It’s just on a different level, and it’s a reflection of the times and it’s unfortunate,” he said.

State and local election officials have become targets for those upset by Trump’s loss and who believe a number of unfounded conspiracy theories about a rigged election. Many have retired or resigned as a result, raising staffing issues in some offices.

Four people have been charged by federal prosecutors, with one pleading guilty last month. In this case, the Secretary of State of Colorado, Jena Griswold, was the subject of several threatening messages on social networks.

Robert Heberle, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, recently told state election officials that dozens of cases were still being investigated and further prosecutions were pending. expected.

Griswold, a Democrat who has received numerous death threats since the 2020 election, turned himself in to the National Assn. conference of secretaries of state earlier this summer in Louisiana with private security.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Griswold said she would not be intimidated by the threats and said a new state law she helped pass increases protections for election workers at all. levels.

“We cannot allow violent threats against secretaries of state and election officials to become an accepted norm in the United States,” she said.

Organizers of the meeting of state secretaries, which is held twice a year, have stepped up security measures since the 2020 election, said Maria Benson, the group’s communications director. This includes coordinating with law enforcement before and during conferences, she said.

At the group’s summer meeting this month in Baton Rouge, local law enforcement officers were visible in the lobby and meeting areas of the hotel where the conference was being held. Members of the media have been instructed to keep their credentials visible while in the meeting area.

It’s not just election officials who are ordering tight security at their rallies.

When the Assn. met earlier this month in Portland, Maine, security was the highest in the state in decades.

The heavy law enforcement presence included city police, state police, and security details, including soldiers from other states. Plainclothes police roamed the event and additional officers were kept out of the way, in case they were needed.

The increased security presence came as demonstrators gathered to protest new abortion restrictions in states including Arkansas, home of the association’s outgoing president and current Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.

Security planning, which had been underway for months, also involved K-9 police units and patrol officers in the port.

“We’re in different times right now,” said Shannon Moss, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “Just look at recent events in our country – mass shootings, violent and disruptive protests, a divisive political climate. Law enforcement must be prepared to deal with these types of potential security threats.

There were no protesters outside the rally of election administrators in Wisconsin, but threats of violence against election workers became so widespread that the group took no security risks.

The exact location of the meeting — which ultimately ended up a block from the state Capitol — wasn’t revealed to reporters who signed up to cover it until four days before the event began. There was no sign in the hotel announcing the meeting. And the agenda detailing the topics to be discussed, such as “understanding and preventing insider threats”, was only distributed at the start of the meeting.

Amy Cohen, executive director of the state elections group, warned the 170 registered attendees from 33 states to wear their badges at the event, but to remove them when leaving and entering the city.

“Don’t advertise who you are and exactly why you’re here,” she said.

Cohen said meeting organizers coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement for the event. She encouraged attendees to report any suspicious activity they saw, and hotel staff had been trained to be vigilant.

She said the association did not livestream any of the panels, or post any messages on its Twitter account during the rally, although there were no social media bans for those who attended.

“Please be mindful of what you post and remember that some of the people in this room face serious safety issues and we need to be respectful to keep everyone safe,” Cohen said at the start of the rally.

Judd Choate, Colorado state chief election officer for 13 years, attended the Wisconsin event and said he was surprised at the level of resentment and hostility towards election workers. He said many of the attacks came from people who did not fully understand how the election was conducted.

“We were kind of a sleeping part of the government, and we’re not anymore,” he said.

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